The Perilous Halloween Carnivals of My Childhood

halloween carnival
(photo credit: zettasaprons.blogspot.com)

Tomorrow morning I plan to take my kids to their school’s campus bright and early for the Fall Festival. There will be lots of pre-wrapped treats (with allergens clearly marked) for the children to enjoy after a thorough hand-coating of sanitizing gel. They will find many wholesome games to play – a participation prize waiting for them at the conclusion of each. There will be a bounce house which, like the carnival itself, will be padded, safe, and free from any sharp edges or hard surfaces.

If you recreated the Halloween carnival of my childhood on an elementary school campus today, it would be roped off with caution tape by EPA employees in haz-mat suits. Someone would video the festivities secretly with her phone and then sell the footage to Dateline NBC. It felt like family fun at the time, but looking back, it was fraught with danger, disease, and political incorrectness. For your consideration:

We Called it a “Halloween Carnival” instead of a “Fall Festival.”

For the first few years of elementary school, we still referred to this event as the “Halloween Carnival.” Someone on the PTA shoved the whole student body up on that “Fall Festival” bandwagon around 3rd grade. We made the switch as to avoid offending families who found Halloween to be sinister. If anyone had asked me, and if I had known the word “offended,” I would have expressed my offense at the celebration of Fall. It gets cooler. Big whoop. Having to keep up with a coat is nothing to celebrate. Halloween, on the other hand – dressing up and eating candy – that calls for a carnival.

We walked to the Halloween Carnival.

By the time I was my daughter’s age (and probably for two years before) I met up with neighborhood friends and walked to the school’s campus on Friday afternoon for the Halloween Carnival Fall Festival. Where were our moms, you ask? Sometimes they were working. Sometimes they were already at the carnival volunteering. Sometimes they were watching Donahue or at the gym. They were not walking around with us.

We bobbed for apples.

I loved bobbing for apples as a kid. A tub of stagnant water? Grimy kids putting there mouths in said stagnant water one after the other all afternoon? Fruit with peel still in place? Mercy, just tell me how many tickets this costs and say “when!” I could unhinge my jaw like a snake, you see, and the opportunities I had for showcasing that skill were few and far between. My love for apple bobbing had nothing to do with apples and everything to do with winning, because the truth of the matter is that I did not even like apples at the time. If you had left me home alone for a month with nothing but apples I would have either starved to death or picked the glitter-covered macaroni noodles off the picture frame I made my mom at camp and consumed them in desperation.

We gave out homemade cakes at the cake walk.

The cakes at our cake walk had layers, amateurishly-applied frosting, and were topped off with toothpicks to prevent the tinfoil from sticking. There was no way to be sure the mothers who donated these cakes had clean hands or clean kitchens. There was no way to be sure their intentions were good. We just trusted them like a bunch of suckers. And of course food allergies then, for whatever reason, were uncommon, so we didn’t have to be so cautious in that regard.

We sent kids to jail.

The highlight of the Halloween Carnival, at least to me, was getting to send people to jail. For a set amount of tickets, a student could have one of his friends arrested. The kid paying the tickets would write his buddy’s name down on a slip of paper, and then someone in the front office would announce the wanted man’s name over the loud speaker: “Steven Parker, please report to jail.” The convict would have to stay behind crape paper bars for a couple of minutes, and then he was released to take revenge out on the friend who had turned him in. I wonder how this game would go over today. I think it might be too offensive for kids who have parents that are incarcerated.

Please feel free to leave a Fall Festival memory in the comment section. Calhoun folks, I’ll see you at the Festival for some safe, sterile family fun.

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9 Comments on “The Perilous Halloween Carnivals of My Childhood

  1. I loved the cake walk and the needle in the haystack. At my school (Brookwood Elementary), it was called the Brookwood Ballyhoo, and there was a real, live haunted house. 🙂 good times

  2. Our Halloween carnival, as I remember it, took place during the school day. We wore our costumes to school, and at some point during the day were released to the front lawn of the school, where the festivities took place. Maybe it was actually after school hours…I can’t recall. I remember being able to throw pies at the principal.

  3. Can you write another like this about all the things we used to have and get to do on the playground that are no longer allowed? 🙂 (jumping off the swings, merry go rounds…)

    • Do you remember those slides they used to have at Burger King that were like conveyor belts? Like a series of rolling tubes? Of man, when you got your pinkie caught between those rollers it hurt like crazy!

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